the guards running.

But I knew those dudes. Believe me, I knew them too well. They’d come shooting like it was the first day of deer season. I don’t know about you, but I always think it’s good to avoid a bloodbath before lunch, if you can.

“We can control ’em, Leon,” I said. I started to tug him to his feet. He groaned again, rubbing his middle.

I had him standing up, teetering a little, when I saw Bo and Sweeny leap out the open window. One followed the other, and they didn’t look back.

No, we don’t have bars on the windows. Cuz this isn’t a cage, remember? It’s a haven. Besides, what chimp in his right mind would ever leave a cushy setup like this?

“Ohmigod! Ohmigod!” Leon kept slapping his forehead and staring at the window. “I’ll kill ’em! I’ll kill the both of ’em!”

Bad attitude. I was about to tell Leon that his bad attitude got us in this mess to begin with. For a moment, I couldn’t decide whether to start packing my suitcase, or go after the two fugitives.

But I’m a hopeful kinda guy, and I really wanted to stick around. So I motioned for Leon to follow me. “We can bring ’ em back. They ’re probably waiting for us in the garden.”

Leon glanced all around crazily. I don’t know what he was looking for. A weapon? Then he narrowed his eye like he was trying to focus on the situation in hand. And he followed me out the front door.

The screen door slammed behind us. Sounded like a gun going off, and I jumped. I took a breath and told myself to cool out because I had to be the thinking one.

The heat hit us like a tidal wave, and I felt the first trickle of sweat at the back of my neck. The air felt thick and steamy. “They ain’t waiting in the garden,” Leon said.

“There they go.” I pointed just as the two chimps disappeared into a stand of red mangrove trees. Leon and I took off, jogging after them. We ran right through the whirring column of buzzing swamp flies and kept going.

I could hear the two chimps chittering to each other, all excited like. I knew that’d make it easy to follow them. One small break.

“Wait,” Leon said, pulling back on my shoulder. “We need something.”

“Like what?” I said.

He didn’t answer. Ducked into the little, white garden shed. I heard him banging around in there. “ Leon — they’re getting away!” I shouted. “If we lose their trail…”

Leon came running out carrying a long-handled shovel in front of him, like a spear.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Convincing them,” Leon said.

I sighed. “We have to bring ’em back in good shape, Leon. No bruises or nothing. So Dr. Nell and the others can’t tell anything went on.”

“First, we’ve gotta bring ’em back,” Leon said. He swung the shovel head to part the tall grass, and we stepped into the shade of the trees.

I couldn’t see them, but I could hear Sweeny and Bo clucking to each other somewhere up ahead. Leon led the way over the snaky mangrove roots and through the tangles of tree trunks and low limbs.

I decided to try a simple approach. I called to them. “Hey, Sweeny! Bo! Come back here!” That didn’t work. I shouted their names some more, but I could just as well have been shouting at the birds in the trees.

I swatted a fat mosquito off my forehead. Leon ’s face was red, his blond hair was matted wetly to his head. He carried the shovel on one shoulder now, like a soldier marching to battle. The shovel head kept rattling low tree limbs, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“They’re heading to the ravine,” he said. He spit angrily.

“That’s bad,” I replied. “They could get caught in the leaf bed.” At the bottom of the ravine, the dead leaves from cedar elms are piled five or six feet high. It was just a natural pit, not man-made or anything. Even if it didn’t bury them, it would make it almost impossible to pull the two big jerks out.

“Gotta catch ’em before they get stuck in there,” I said. I ducked my head under a low vine, pushed between some palmetto palms tilting as if they were windblown, and started to trot faster.

Leon was breathing hard. I could see he was having trouble keeping up. Dude kept groaning and rubbing his sore belly as he tried to run.

We ran into a circle of cedar elms, a small clearing with tall grass in the middle. Three scrawny, brown rabbits high-tailed it over the grass in different directions. I stopped because I realized I didn’t hear Sweeny and Bo anymore.

I listened. I could hear tree frogs all around in the high limbs. No chimp sounds. Did they already bury themselves in the ravine? Not too likely. It was still pretty far up ahead.

Leon leaned on the shovel, breathing hard. His shirt was stuck to his body, soaking wet. “Which way?” he muttered, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. He stared into the trees.

“Straight ahead maybe?” I said, pointing. I shook my head. “We came this far. We can’t lose them. We just can’t.”

Sure, I sounded desperate, but I didn’t care. I was thinking about consequences. Losing our jobs was one thing. But what if the big chimps escaped and got messing with people and hurt somebody or did some real damage? That could be major consequences for me, right?

I heard a low growl close behind me. And then a grunt.

I turned and saw two pairs of dark eyes, glowing in the shade of some cedar elms.

Another growl. Like a warning. Two lumbering figures stepped slowly into the clearing.

“It’s them,” I murmured. “Look, Leon. They made a circle and they’re creeping up behind us.”

The two chimps stepped forward, hunkered low, tall grass up to their knees. They pointed at us, snarling, pulling back their lips and showing us their big teeth.

I took a step back. Leon raised the shovel. But he took a step back, too.

“Sweeny! Bo! Let’s go back!” I shouted.

They kept their teeth bared. They lumbered forward, one step at a time.

I felt a chill run down my spine. “ Leon,” I said softly, “see what’s going down here? They’re stalking us.”

He tightened his grip on the shovel handle. He held it in front of him with both hands. His teeth were gritted. His cheeks were twitching.

I knew what Leon had in mind. Stand our ground and fight it out with them. But that wasn’t my idea. Try to fight two angry, 200-pound beasts? I’d give us better odds at wrestling a cottonmouth.

“Follow me, Leon,” I said. “Let ’em chase us. Let ’em chase us right back to the house.”

He squinted at me. “Huh?”

“Just keep backing up,” I said. “Stay with me. Act like you’re afraid. Start backing up. We can lead them right back to where we want them.”

It sounds crazy but that’s what we did. We backed over the grass and into the trees, retracing our steps. And the growling monkeys stalked us, keeping their distance, but coming slowly and steadily, letting us know this wasn’t going to end in a friendly way.

My only question was: when were they going to make their jump at us? If they decided to take it to us before we reached the yard, Leon and I could be chimp meat in seconds.

So, Leon and I backed our way through the trees. I can’t speak for Leon, but I’ll confess I never was so scared in my life. If you could see the anger boiling off those monkeys’ faces, you’d know why. And I can tell you how happy I was to see the house and the front yard come up behind us.

Almost there. “Now what?” Leon demanded. “How do we get ’em in the house?”

“I have an idea,” I said. “Can you keep ’em busy?”

He spit on the grass. “You being funny?”

The chimps backed Leon toward the front wall of the house. He raised the shovel, holding it against him like a shield.

Through the window, I could hear the chimps inside, chittering and wailing and screeching and carrying on like holy hell.

Deal with that later, Wayne, I told myself. First get our two runaways safely inside. I thought I knew what might pull Sweeny and Bo in. Breakfast.

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